Most business-to-business negotiations are destroying potential value. Rather than engendering trust, they sow the seeds for discord.
Ask any hostage negotiator about how to achieve success and they will tell you that it isn’t through intransigence, threats or deliberate tabling of unacceptable terms. Yet examine typical business negotiations and these are traits that frequently occur. The more powerful party tables one-sided terms and demands compliance. They typically claim ‘everyone else accepts these terms’ (I.e. if you don’t, we won’t do business); and in many cases, the counter-party responds by tabling their similarly one-sided terms.
This isn’t negotiation. In many ways, it is negotiation avoidance. It is based on a lack of trust and a fear of failure.
A different approach
If we want better results – and I hope we all do – there’s a need for a different approach. Here are three principles to consider:
- Confront perceptions. It is clear that many negotiations are compromised by unspoken assumptions or beliefs. Unless these ‘elephants’ are addressed, there will not be trust and without trust, confrontation is inevitable.
- Send negotiators, not roadblocks. Often, suggesting that negotiations are occurring is a bad joke. One or both parties frequently send people whose job is to enforce compliance. They lack authority and have no interest in showing empathy or acting as an advocate for the other side.
- Build common ground. Ultimately, high performing relationships are built on shared principles and goals. Yet because the elephants aren’t addressed and because the negotiators have limited authority, it is very unlikely that common ground will be explored or established.
Ultimately, while organizations are responsible for performance, it is people who set the scene. Until these three principles are addressed, we can’t expect results to improve.